Church of England defends appointment of Stephen Cottrell as Archbishop of York

Stephen Cottrell (r) with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, with whom he will share in the leadership of the Church of England

The Church of England has defended the appointment of Stephen Cottrell as the next Archbishop of York. 

The current Bishop of Chelmsford, he will succeed Dr John Sentamu when he retires in June 2020.

The appointment has been greeted with concern by some evangelicals in the Church of England because of a dispute between the bishop and vicar John Parker in the Diocese of Chelmsford earlier this year.

Evangelical Anglican group Church Society and Andrea Williams, General Synod member and Christian Concern chief executive, have both questioned the appointment. 

Williams and Christian Concern supported the Rev John Parker during the dispute, which arose over the handling of a child's gender transition at a Church of England school where he was governor. Rev Parker also raised concerns about the school's decision to use the Mermaids transgender campaign group for staff training on gender dysphoria. 

Rev Parker claimed that when he took his concerns to the school and diocesan education board, they were ignored. Rev Tim Elbourne, Director of Education of the Diocese of Chelmsford, has denied that he was ever contacted by Rev Parker in relation to this matter. 

Rev Parker further claimed that Bishop Cottrell, who has publicly defended the school's handling of the matter, suggested that he could leave the Church of England over his views on sexuality. 

This claim was strenuously denied at the time by Bishop Cottrell, who said in a letter to clergy in the Diocese of Chelmsford that he had "not forced a priest from office".

"I certainly did not, as has been claimed, ask or imply that he should leave the Church of England on account of his views on the matter in question, or that he was not welcome," he said.

Williams strongly criticised his appointment as Archbishop of York, saying, "This is not a bishop who respects Biblical truth when it comes to human sexuality or marriage."

She added: "The appointment of Stephen Cottrell as Archbishop of York is another marker in the sad and sorry decline of the Cof E and its willingness to depart from clear Biblical teaching."

In its own statement, Church Society said: "Clergy from Chelmsford diocese expressed serious concerns about Bishop Stephen's approach to disagreements around gender and sexuality earlier this year.

"Please pray today that this appointment would not pave the way for such changes to be made. Pray too for the appointment of a faithful gospel minister as the new Bishop of Chelmsford." 

Responding to the criticism, a spokesperson from the Church of England categorically denied the accusations against the bishop. 

"With reference to the recent statement from a pressure group, the accusations made against the Right Reverend Stephen Cottrell are entirely without foundation," the spokesperson said.

"It is untrue that Bishop Stephen suggested to a governor of a Church of England School that his views on sexuality were not welcome and he could leave.

"Bishop Stephen made that clear at the time and subsequently in an Ad Clerum. It is also untrue that Bishop Stephen suggested to any other clergy that they should leave the Church of England. As he is said at his announcement, the Church of England is a Church for all people, welcoming everyone.

"He upholds the teaching of the Church of England that recognises marriage as being between one man and one woman.

"Bishop Stephen has not endorsed gender transitioning in and of itself for children but has pastoral concern for any child affected by gender dysphoria.

"He holds biblical truth as sacred and is in all matters guided by the gospel. Speaking at the press conference for his announcement he said 'What binds us together is not our views on this issue or that issue, what binds us together is our faith in Jesus Christ. We say water is thicker than blood. It is our baptism and our belonging to each other that really matters'."